As a kid Elon Musk had so much trouble being on time, his younger brother developed a trick to make sure Musk didn’t miss the bus to school.
Kimbal Musk — who currently sits on Tesla’s board — would lie to his older brother about the time, telling the future billionaire that the bus would be arriving, several minutes ahead of schedule. The slight manipulation ensured Musk wouldn’t be left behind.
More than three decades later, the business world is still wrangling with “Elon Time,” as one shareholder has labeled it, those confident pronouncements about the timing of deliveries, rollouts and benchmarks that are often unrealistic at best, empty spin at worst (depending on your perspective).
“I think I do have, like, an issue with time,” Musk said minutes after shareholders voted to maintain his status as Tesla’s chairman at the company’s annual shareholders meeting Tuesday. “I’m a naturally optimistic person. I wouldn’t have done cars or rockets if I wasn’t. I’m trying to recalibrate as much as possible.”
In recent months, missed deadlines have plagued the rollout of the Model 3, the sedan that represents Tesla’s crucial attempt to break into the mainstream car market. With manufacturing numbers months behind schedule and Tesla burning through cash, some critics believe “Elon time” threatens to jeopardize the company’s relationship with Wall Street, putting Tesla’s future at risk.
“Elon time” elicited laughs when a shareholder used the phrase during a Q&A at Tuesday’s meeting, but for many analysts the chief executive’s penchant for false promises is no laughing matter.
“Here’s the problem with a visionary entrepreneur,” said Steve Blank, a retired businessman who teaches entrepreneurship at Stanford. “Once you’re proven the initial naysayers wrong and shown that your vision was right, you can fall victim to the idea that every one of your pronouncements is correct.
“It’s not that he’s been wrong,” Blank added. “He’s been dead right about building an industry, but they’ve spent an enormous amount of money, and now they’ve got to execute better.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Musk told shareholders Tesla is producing 3,500 Model 3’s a week, and he expects that number to reach 5,000 cars per week by the end of the month. Musk said manufacturing will be Tesla’s greatest long-term strength and predicted the company would be profitable in the third and fourth quarters.
Despite striking his customarily confident tone, he also offered a warning of sorts minutes later about the pitfalls of “Elon time.”
“I’d probably put some sandbag on future dates; that’s probably wise,” Musk said. “I kind of say when I think it can occur, but then I’m typically optimistic about these things.”
“It pretty much always happens,” he added, “but not exactly on the time frame.”